WASHINGTON, (AP) -Deeply distrustful of Iran, the White House expressed skepticism Monday about Tehran’s plans to greatly expand its economic and military ties with Iraq, where the United States has accused Iran of supporting terrorism and supplying weapons to kill American forces.
“If Iran wants to quit playing a destructive role in the affairs of Iraq and wants to play a constructive role, we would certainly welcome that,” National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. But, he said, “We’ve seen little evidence to date (of constructive activities) and frankly all we have seen is evidence to the contrary.”
Deeply at odds over Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, Washington and Tehran find themselves in a bitter and more public conflict over Iraq. American troops in Iraq have been authorized to kill or capture Iranian agents deemed to be a threat. “If you’re in Iraq and trying to kill our troops, then you should consider yourself a target,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week.
Iran’s plans in Iraq were outlined by Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qumi in an interview with The New York Times. He said Iran was prepared to offer Iraqi government forces training, equipment and advisers for what he called “the security fight,” the newspaper reported. He said that in the economic area, Iran was ready to assume major responsibility for the reconstruction of Iraq.
“We have experience of reconstruction after war,” the ambassador said, referring to the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. “We are ready to transfer this experience in terms of reconstruction to the Iraqis.”
Johndroe said the Bush administration was looking at what the ambassador had to say.
The White House says there has been growing evidence over the last several months that Iran is supporting terrorists inside Iraq and is a major supplier of bombs and other weapons used to target U.S. forces. In recent weeks, U.S. forces have detained a number of Iranian agents in Iraq.
“It makes sense that if somebody is trying to harm our troops or stop us from achieving our goal, or killing innocent citizens in Iraq, that we will stop them,” President Bush said on Friday.